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The Black Russian Audio CD – Audiobook, 15 Aug 2013


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Product details

  • Audio CD
  • Publisher: Blackstone Audiobooks; Unabridged edition (15 Aug 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1482944596
  • ISBN-13: 978-1482944594
  • Product Dimensions: 2.5 x 12.7 x 15.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Review

One of "San Francisco Chronicle"'s Top Ten Nonfiction Books of 2013 "Magnetizing and unforgettable . . . In his assiduously researched, prodigiously descriptive, fluently analytical, and altogether astonishing work of resurrection, Alexandrov provides uniquely focused accounts of racial struggles in America and decadence and bloodshed in Europe and Russia while insightfully and dynamically portraying a singular man." --"Booklist" (starred review) "A wild life of intrigue, deception and beating the odds . . . [Frederick] Thomas' story is certainly interesting, particularly since he was able to thrive in Europe in a way most African-American men of his generation couldn't dream of. . . . ["The Black Russian" is] a good choice for those who enjoy reading about life's underdogs." --"Kirkus Reviews" "[A] gracefully written feat of historical sleuthing. . . . Through prodigious archival research, historical scholarship and painstaking reconstruction of secondhand accounts, [Alexandrov] has drawn a moving and vivid portrait of a remarkable American life." --"San Francisco Chronicle" "With so much focus on the black experience in America in the 19th century, we might never consider the black experience in Europe at the same time. Vladimir Alexandrov's "The Black Russian" rectifies this oversight, and does so with panache. His tale is the biography of an individual who is wholly remarkable, regardless of race, and whose vitality, guile, and charm led him from Mississippi to Moscow, with plenty of adventures along the way. . . . Alexandrov transports the reader to an exotic era. Some of the most memorable parts of Thomas's life story lie in the incidental grace notes that add color to the lands through which he traveled." --"The Daily Beast" "It is a testament to Thomas's unlikely success in Moscow, but also to Alexandrov's frisson-inducing account of myriad adventures along the way, that "The Black Russian" emerges as deeply satisfying desp --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Vladimir Alexandrov received a Ph. D. in comparative literature from Princeton. He taught Russian literature and culture at Harvard before moving to Yale, where he is B.E. Bensinger Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures. He is the author of books on Bely, Nabokov, and Tolstoy, and has published numerous articles on various other Russian writers and topics. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By S Riaz HALL OF FAMETOP 10 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 8 Jun 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is the fascinating story of Frederick Bruce Thomas (or Fyodor Fyodovovich Tomass as he later reinvented himself) who was born in the Deep South the son of freed slaves and who ended his life in Constantinople. This meticulously researched biography follows his life from his birth in 1969, when it appeared he would have the limited life chances of all black people in the South. However, for Thomas that was certainly not to be. He went first to the cities, ending up in New York, before travelling to England. Europe was a much more accepting and tolerant place for black people and Thomas went to Paris, Belgium, the Riveria and Italy, working in hotels and restaurants before travelling to Russia.

When Frederick Thomas arrived in Russia it was 1988 and the Russian Empire was entering its final years, although nobody could predict how quickly and violently it would collapse. Thomas took up his usual jobs in hotels and restaurants in St Petersburg, Odessa and Moscow, before settling in Moscow. There were very few black people living in Russia, but there was no racial prejudice against him, as there were many Slavs and other races in the country. In fact, if there was prejudice, it was aimed at the Jewish population and Thomas found that he was able to marry and set up in business. Soon he, along with other business partners, was running several successful nightclubs and restaurants to the intense surprise (and barely concealed chagrin) of visiting white Americans.

This then is the story of his life as a Russian, where he went so far as to ask to become a subject of the Tsar. This action would come back to haunt Thomas when revolution came and he found himself hated, not for his colour, but for his wealth.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
In 1899 a black American goes to Russia, becomes a successful showman and on the eve of the revolution even becomes a Russian citizen. The research into Frederick Thomas's background in Mississippi is quite interesting especially I'm sure for American readers. But the account of his time in Russia is mostly a catalogue of business ventures. An enormous amount of research has evidently gone into this work and it reads well. However, I didn't feel I came away better informed about this crucial period of Russian history. As others have commented you don't get that much of a sense of the man either, although that may be due to limitations inherent in the available material. For me the most surprising thing, though, was that the last half of the book is in fact about Thomas's time in Constantinople and not about Russia at all. Again this is mostly a catalogue of business ventures to which are now added run-ins with the American consular authorities. From the Treaty of Versailles the Allied Powers controlled Constantinople until handing over to the new Turkish Republic in 1923. This fascinating period of Turkish history is now largely forgotten in the English-speaking world and could have benefitted from a fuller treatment - but then the book would have been even less about Russia.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 56 reviews
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Horatio Alger with a twist 8 Mar 2013
By TChris - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Both history and biography, The Black Russian is sort of a Horatio Alger story with a twist. Hard work and perseverance are the formula for success, but in this case success was possible for a black American only because he became an entrepreneur in Russia, where his race was not an obstacle to achievement.

Born in the Mississippi Delta to recently freed slaves, Frederick Thomas was raised in a successful farm family. Unlike many Delta blacks, Thomas was given the opportunity to discover that there was more to life than "an endless cycle of labor, food, and sleep." When his father and stepmother lost their property to an unscrupulous white landowner -- a swindle that was partially rectified after a protracted legal battle -- Thomas learned how quickly the course of a life can change. More than once, his own life followed a similar "rags-to-riches-to-rags" pattern.

Supporting himself with service jobs in restaurants and hotels, Thomas made his way to Chicago and then to Brooklyn. He escaped American racism by moving to London and then to Paris. Thomas worked his way through Europe, refining his skills in the restaurant and hotel trades, and in 1899 made his way to Russia. Thomas eventually settled in Moscow, an ethnically diverse city that drew no color lines. In 1912 he entered into a partnership to turn an old Moscow theater into a classy establishment that offered fine dining, dancing, and stage entertainment. By the end of its first season, Thomas was a rich man. His success encouraged him to make new investments.

To protect himself (and his businesses) from the consequences of war, Thomas became a Russian citizen in 1915. Just two years later, in a time of revolution, his status as a "prosperous bourgeois capitalist" worked against him. To avoid arrest, he made a perilous journey from Moscow to Odessa, but he was still at risk. Fortunately, Thomas never informed the United States of his new citizenship and neither did Russia, omissions that benefited Thomas when, in 1919, having lost the wealth he accumulated over twenty years to the Bolshevik Revolution, he fled Odessa with the help of the American consul.

At the age of forty-seven, virtually penniless, Thomas arrived in Constantinople determined to reinvent himself. An influx of Westerners created opportunities that Thomas was positioned to exploit. Thomas knew how to provide the elegant and sophisticated food and entertainment that wealthy foreigners craved and that conservative Turks condemned. Despite complications caused by an ex-wife and a racist American bureaucrat, Thomas was able to replicate (at least to some degree) his success in the entertainment industry. After a few years, however, it became clear that Thomas had escaped from one volatile political situation only to find himself in the midst of another. Denied the benefits of an American passport, apparently due to a combination of racism and incompetence in a State Department that refused to acknowledge his American birth, Thomas was stuck in Constantinople. He ended his days in prison, unable to pay the debts that accumulated after the Turkish government made a point of sabotaging foreign enterprises.

The Black Russian makes clear that Thomas was a remarkable man. He had as many successes and failures as Donald Trump (although, unlike Trump, he couldn't rely on bankruptcy courts to rescue him from hard times). His successful introduction of jazz to his clientele in both Moscow and Constantinople seems both visionary and quixotic. Yet as a biography, The Black Russian is curiously detached from its subject. We see hints of Thomas' personality from time to time (sometimes boastful, sometimes devious, and oddly unattached to his children), but I never got the sense of knowing Thomas as a person.

The Black Russian is clearly the product of meticulous research. History is often based on inference, but Vladimir Alexandrov is careful to distinguish between known and assumed facts. There are times when the book threatens to bog down with detail, and several collateral passages come across as filler that have little to do with Thomas' life. Still, the book isn't dull. While Alexandrov's writing style isn't always lively, it is neither dry nor overly academic. Although The Black Russian is filled with census data and other statistics, Alexandrov gives careful attention to the cultural atmosphere that surrounded Thomas, both in the United States and abroad. Alexandrov paints a descriptive picture of the entertainment business in both Moscow and Constantinople, underscoring the contrast between their repressive governance and the public's lust for the things their leaders condemned as decadent. In short, The Black Russian tells an interesting and informative -- but not particularly captivating -- story of a largely unknown American entrepreneur who found success in surprising environments.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
History & Biography 14 April 2013
By DEM - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Mr. Alexandrov's meticulous research has pieced together the main chapters of the life of an incredible individual. I pre-ordered this book months before it finally came out and looked forward to reading it for a long time. It is a fascinating story and one that the author tell well. At times I felt like Mr. Alexandrov used too much filler material on the culture and history of Russia and Turkey, but I understand that the main character left no diaries and few written traces to present a more detailed biography. Nonetheless, it was a book that I look forward to reading each evening, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I would recommend it without reservation.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Historian as Detective of Life 6 Nov 2013
By Abramo - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
While it seems obvious on the face of it, the primary advice offered every author, especially writers of non fiction, is to really know what you are writing about. In this remarkable book, Yale professor Vladimir Alexandrov demonstrates the truth behind the advice. He KNOWS Frederick Bruce Thomas. But how does one learn about the life of a remarkable yet little known person? It takes straight forward detective work based on excellent and all encompassing research. Whether for an experienced writer or the not yet published, The Black Russian provides a tremendous example of how historians create truth by slowly ferreting out facts, facts and more facts from the most obvious as well as least expected sources. But, the recitation of every known jot and tittle only broadly informs the reader about the subject. It takes excellent writing skills to literally re-create and breathe life into a human being. Alexandrov helps the reader discover the context of the Thomas's time, "feel" who he was and marvel about his life.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Truly The Most Interesting Man in the World!? 8 May 2013
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I just got this book today, but am already halfway through reading it. As a personal life-story (biography) or as a business success book, "The Black Russian" is unrivaled. As a Russophile, it was fascinating reading about Russia at the turn of the century on the eve of the revolution. Yet it never slows down or gets lost in the minutia that often causes some to dislike history.

As a "rags-to-riches" story, it has the most unlikely of plots, a black man (son of freed slaves who themselves become very wealthy only to lose everything) who becomes a millionaire multiple times over in Moscow, Russia of all places. Corruption, dance halls, racism, anti-semitic bigotry, communism, fat-cat princes throwing wild parties, Monte Carlo,...this book has something for everyone and should be an encouragement to those who may take their situation in life for granted and waste a large portion of it waiting for some breakthrough, rather than working to realize their dreams.

Kudos to a great story and amazing writing by Vladmir Alexandrov!
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
A very good read. 19 Oct 2013
By Jamayne Grimaldi - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The amazing true story of a child of freed slaves who left the country of his birth where he was still viewed as a second class citizen, who ended up in Imperial Russia and became a man of great wealth. I first heard about this book on CSPAN, and purchased it few days later. Prof.Alexandrov does a good job of panting a vivid picture of the man and times with a great easy reading flow.If you are in to history or just want a good book to read then this is it.
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